Frances Gould | 11/15/2011 11:54:16 PM
Demonstrations show how to use precision ag tools
The 2011 LSU AgCenter Soybean Verification Program included fields in 10 parishes across the state – with the goal of applying practical research in the field to help farmers increase economic returns.
Production fields involved in the program were in Vermilion, Iberia, Avoyelles, Madison, Evangeline, Concordia, Catahoula, West Carroll, East Carroll and St. Landry parishes.
LSU AgCenter soybean specialist Dr. Ronnie Levy and research associate Keith Normand visited the fields weekly to check on progress and to advise farmers on which practices should be carried out and when they should be done.
"Timely practices increase yields," Levy said. "When pesticides are applied at the proper time, farmers get the maximum economic returns."
The verification program is conducted for a maximum of two years with the same grower, but preferably not on the same field both years, Levy said.
Final results from the 2010 verification program showed a 20 percent increase in yields for the fields involved in the program. The increased yields resulted in an approximately $60 per acre increase in returns for the verification fields.
Levy said those results show the potential for farmers to realize more income from their crops. "This could result in a $60 million increase in sales by farmers from the 1 million acres in soybean production," the LSU AgCenter specialists said.
In addition to the work of Levy and Normand, LSU AgCenter economist Dr. Kurt Guidry compiles data from each field to determine costs of production and the net gain, or loss, from each field.
Levy said neighboring farmers get the opportunity to see practices being applied on verification fields that have resulted in benefits of stand establishment, population densities, variety selection and integrated pest management. Verification and demonstration fields also serve as sites for many parish field days throughout the state.
Another demonstration project is being conducted by Dennis Burns, LSU AgCenter county agent in Tensas Parish, and R.L. Frazier, LSU AgCenter county agent in Madison Parish. They are using high-tech equipment that can help farmers save money by tailoring the correct amounts of fertilizer and other chemicals for areas within a field.
Burns said the first year of the project aimed at teaching farmers how to use GPS equipment, yield monitors and other precision-agriculture tools.
This year, they began using a high-tech rig to help farmers determine the effects of varying nitrogen rates.
The device uses Greenseeker technology, which measures reflective light from the leaves of plants every second. It has been installed on a tall, ground-spray rig to collect data in the field. As the spray rig moves through the field, the sensors measuring the reflective light tell the sprayer how much fertilizer or plant growth regulator to apply.
It has been used in corn, wheat and cotton, and LSU AgCenter faculty members say Greenseeker will be used after the initial fertilizer application to see how well plants are doing at midseason.
The information can be used to determine a customized fertilizer application plan or to apply an on-the-go nitrogen application based on the data being collected. Either method could apply a variable rate of nitrogen throughout a field.
Burns said word is spreading among farmers about the equipment, and they are being asked by more growers to show how it works. "It’s an ever-expanding, word-of-mouth thing," he said.
The project has demonstrated the effects of variable fertilizer rates by planting strips with fertilizer reduced by 30 units of the standard amount, an increase of 30 units and the regularly recommended rate. The strips are analyzed by the scanner and compared with yield data obtained at harvest.
Burns said the sensors will detect problems in a field long before human eyes can see them. "It gives you a jump-start and sees it before you can," he explained, adding that it’s important to identify problems before they can be seen. "By then, the damage could already be done." –Bruce Schultz